In Bold Move Toward Free Online Fantasy Gaming, Turbine Prepares to Throw Open the Gates to Dungeons & Dragons
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the evolution of the 15-year-old, 300-employee company—which is funded by Highland Capital Partners, Polaris Venture Partners, and Time Warner Investments, among other backers—into a business that’s much more focused on marketing strategies than it has been in the past, Crowley says.
Which may be precisely what the company’s board intended when it brought in Crowley two years ago, replacing former CEO Jeff Anderson. A longtime game industry insider, Anderson turned Turbine from a struggling developer with just one game, Asheron’s Call, into a major publisher with online rights to what are arguably the world’s two leading fantasy properties—-Dungeons & Dragons and the Tolkien world. Crowley, by contrast, is a former mobile-industry executive who was chief operating officer at Boston-based mobile marketing company m-Qube until its acquisition by Verisign in 2006 for $250 million; he then spent time at Highland as an entrepreneur in residence. The move to make him Anderson’s replacement was “one of many that Turbine has recently made to invest in new talent that will drive the next wave of the company’s growth,” the company said in a press release at the time.
The exact story around the 2007 shakeup is a bit murky. Anderson, who is now CEO at Foxborough, MA-based Quick Hit Games, has told me in past conversations that he became convinced while still at Turbine that World of Warcraft had sucked much of the oxygen out of the gaming world, and that the remaining MMORPG companies would have to shift to a free-to-play, less software-intensive model to compete. He thought Turbine should go in that direction, but he came to doubt whether the company was capable of making the transition. (Ironically, Quick Hit will launch its own free-to-play online game, a football simulation, on September 9—the same day as Eberron Unlimited.)
Crowley, however, says a free-to-play option has been on the agenda from the day he arrived—it just took a while to get all the pieces in place. “It’s a very compelling model and one that we think has a lot of legs for Turbine,” he says. “But it is also is not relevant to every specific property…and there is a need to have a certain organizational maturity to allow these things to drive forward and flourish. I think we’ve injected a lot of the market discipline that will allow these models to be successful.”
What’s clear is that Turbine sees the launch of Eberron Unlimited as one element in an overarching plan to become what chief marketing officer Jan Horsfall calls an “entertainment-as-a-service” company. “It’s worth noting that we don’t have a senior executive in this company, outside of Chris Dyl [the chief technology officer], who has been here more than two years,” Horsfall told me. “Which is somewhat indicative of the category. You could say we were a development shop at the early stages of our life cycle, we weren’t an entertainment-as-a-service company. And that is really what has changed here. We are putting a senior management group against this business to take advantage of the opportunities that we think are there.”
Those opportunities go well beyond free-to-play online games. Crowley summarizes his big strategy for Turbine this way: “monetize everywhere, engage anywhere, play on anything, operate globally.”
On the revenue side, that means combining microtransactions, subscriptions, and even advertising. On the engagement front, it means creating what Crowley calls a “virtuous circle” between game play and the social networking activities players pursue in their outside lives—for example, by … Next Page »
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